Shit happens

One of the inspiring stories I had heard was about this donkey who had become very old (like me). The Farmer had been served well by the donkey;  but now,  he could neither see very clearly nor serve as a beast of burden.  The Farmer was a kind soul,  and so allowed him to just carry on. One day,  due to his poor eyesight,  the donkey did not see the old dry well: and fell right in!!! It was a 14/15 feet fall and so obviously the donkey could not climb out of the dry well. Nor could the Farmer put down ropes and physically pull the donkey out. And pull out for what? thought the farmer. The donkey is of no use anyway (again like yours truly),  can’t pull his weight around the farm,  do any productive work,  etc etc. Yet considering the donkey’s prior committed service,  the Farmer thought he deserved a decent burial. In the  same dry well!!. So the farmer began shoveling some dirt and mud into the well: with an idea to cover up the donkey and let him die in peace!!

What did the donkey do? (again like me??)  With every shovel full of mud and muck thrown on him: he shook it off and stepped up. Shake it off and Step up. And as the mud kept raining down on him,  lo and behold,   there came a time when the donkey was near the mouth of the dry well : and could just walk out to life and liberty!!!

In every adversity: you have a choice. Do I feel miserable for the inequities rained on me? Do I curse the powers that be? Do I rive and rail at the uncertainties of life? Do I wallow in self pity and curse my stars or my past? Or do I emulate the donkey? Learn from him and say : “Shake it off and step up”  As soon as I learn this magic formula of Shake it off and Step up I soon find myself out of the woods and into a space of freedom and joy.

Unfortunately most of us are so upset with the closing of one door: that we continue to berate our fate and stare at the closed door : little realizing that so many other doors are opening up, and we can Move On!.  But we still get stuck and beat out head against the closed doors in our life: thereby not paying attention to the other opportunities that are open,  other doors which take us to a new realm.

Every area of human endeavor is replete with examples we can learn from! Take Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. She did not rise to the list of Forbes’ Most influential Women Leaders by any wave of the proverbial magic wand. She chose to study  in Australia specializing in malting and brewing and topped her class. Despite this specialist  knowledge, she was told she could not be a Master Brewer as that was a “man’s job”. This closing of the door, encouraged her move abroad where she met Leslie Auchincloss,  founder of Biocon Ireland who happened to be looking for a partner to expand into India!! Rest is corporate history!! But few know that Kiran had negotiated with Leslie that she would get a Master Brewer position equivalent,  in case Biocon India did not work out. I think Leslie is still waiting near the open door: waiting for Kiran; while she has moved on.

Do we move on? Do we Let Go? Or we become a Narayan Murthy who speaks of Letting Go but at the first possible turn: wants to hold on and not Let Go!! If only Shri Murthy had stayed as the “chief Mentor” or a la Nandan Nilekani,  moved on to other pastures. Nandan moved from an entrepreneur to a corporate role; thence to a role as a bureaucrat and politician. His stint as the Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India was full of glorious achievements and putting India well on the road to digitization.   And yet again the skin is shed and he is now in the hot saddle vacated by Sikka, and vitiated by NRN. His wholesome smile and ease is open for all to see. We see a true karma yogi here.

Truly we see the live exemplification of :

वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि।

तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही।। Bhagwat Geeta Verse 22 Chap 2

जैसे जगत् में मनुष्य पुराने जीर्ण वस्त्रोंको त्याग कर अन्य नवीन वस्त्रोंको ग्रहण करते हैं, वैसे हीजीवात्मा पुराने शरीरोंको छोड़कर अन्यान्य नवीन शरीरोंको प्राप्त करता है. अभिप्राय यह कि जीवात्मा सदा  ही निर्विकार रहता है.

How we all, who were worshipers of NRN in his earlier avatar, fondly wish Mr Murthy had shown this निर्विकार attitude. Or for that matter, wish so had Mr Ratan Tata. Or even Mr Cyrus Mistry. By their belligerent actions and public displays all these icons have shown their feet of clay. Shown that Letting Go was difficult for them. Carrying on seemed easier for them. and they were ready to cause enormous losses and harm to the organizations they lived for, the values they publicly espoused just because they were unable to Shake it off and Step up.

Politics also gives us so many examples. The Gandhi family since Indira have never felt like Letting Go and we have the 3rd generation of Gandhis being foisted on an unsuspecting Indian populace. Admittedly, Rahul baba takes the joke on the Indian voters to a really new abysmal level. Look at Lallu and Rabdi. If you wonder what was Rabdi Devi’s legitimacy: you might as well question even what was Lallu’s claim to fame??!!  Nitish in Bihar, Jayalalitha in TN: how many names we need to recount to conclude that the people in power never want to let go: they believe and act as though India  is their jagir which they can pass on like the cattle, hearth and chattel much like the British Lords and gentry.

Looking at all this evidence I conclude: Letting Go is important if you need to grow and move ahead. It is only in shedding the past will you learn and master the future.  Others who give you dollops of sympathy: are not your real friends!! You only need to focus on your own actions. Move on in life. There is miles to go. Let go: rather than carry the past as a burden which will slow you down forever.  Learn from the donkey: Shake it off and Step up. You will soon see a new robust future.

That is why possibly Swami Vivekanand says: “Men, Men.  Men- these are wanted. Everything else will come.” { For my emancipated lady friends: here “men” includes women and vice versa. Remember Swami Vivekananda most illustrious disciple was Sister Nivedita}. Imagine the world if Rudolf Diesel was not able to Let Go of the conventional wisdom of the time and develop an engine that could be ignited without a spark, but just by pressure!. Imagine if Bill Gates was not able to Let Go and move forward as he incorporated so many path breaking ideas in nascent computer operating systems.  Imagine Steve Jobs not being able to move on when he was sacked from Apple, a company he founded, by a Board he incorporated , and a CEO he had chosen. Letting Go, Moving On, and Shaking it off, he set up Pixar and that was his calling card to reenter Apple for his second glorious stint. Can our NRN and Ratan Tatas and Cyrus Mistrys and Yogi Deveshwars and Amol Naiks learn from Steve Jobs to Let go and Move On? Or will Nagavara Murthys and Rahul Gandhis and Roshni Nadars and Isha Ambanis continue in our public life as evidence that Shit Happens!!


Remember, Life is a four letter word.: Love it and Make it: despite it all: vikas


Bareilly ki Barfi

Effervescent, entertaining, engaging, enjoyable.

An absolutely MUST SEE movie.

It is an emergent spark of the coming of age of the Bollywood factory! Every week we see so many films being released. But Bareilly ki Barfi is the clarion call that Bollywood has come of age and is not afraid of showing totally human, totally believable characters. People like you and me. People who act absolutely human. And do not put on any “filmi” airs. They live very normal lives. Day to day humdrum things happen to them. And amidst it all: a lovely story flowers and entertains you.

No actions of any of the characters is “super human”, which has become the norm of all the Hindi potboilers. Here is a under the wraps writer Chirag (Ayushman) who publishes his trashy fictional book under someone else’s name and photograph. And when Bitti Sharma (Kirti Sanon)  reads the book and changes her life’s course and wants to meet the author Vidrohi ( Rajkumar Rao),  Chirag has to play role of getting Bitti to meet Vidrohi. The proverbial love triangle ensues with Chirag falling heads over heels for Bitti while Bitti only wants Vidrohi in her life. Vidrohi is engagingly played by Rajkumar. First aloof, then interested in Bitti, coming up against Chirag ;  who is now caught in a web of his own subterfuge, as he has projected Vidrohi rather than openly accepting he was the real author of the novel that Bitti actually seeks.

Rakjumar shows what a great actor performer he has become. He is a total scene stealer in his various avatars; Sari salesman, scared friend, local aggressive loudmouth, man in love, and finally challenger of Chirag. Each scene in which he is on screen just effortlessly belongs to him and his acting prowess. The movie is worth watching just to see the craft and skill of Rajkumar.

Kirti Sanon ( whom I saw first time on screen) has remarkable confidence and presence. She brings Bitti Sharma to life. Her interactions with her friend, her mother, her father, with Chirag, in her Electricity Dept Complaint Office, her first hating Vidrohi’s loudness and then falling in love with Vidrohi :  all are done with ease and elan. While the totally believable script characterization helps her, she deserves full credit of carrying it off well.  I saw Anushka Sharma’s confidence and star power (displayed in Rab ne Bana di Jodi and Band Baja Baraat) take birth all over again in Kirti, in the way she has played Bitti.

Ayushman as Chirag plays the first half very well. He is great as the small town publisher who falls head over heels for Bitti and woos his damsel. But he falters when Chirag brings in Vidrohi as a counterfoil in Bitti’s lovestory. Maybe the sheer acting prowess of Rajkumar finds it’s first victim in Ayushman’s Chirag. Ayushman is not able to hold his character or his acting together after Rajkumar as Vidrohi enters the story. His only solace is that he finally gets the girl.

On 2 other fronts Bareilly ki Barfi sparkles. All the support characters of Bitti’s parents, Chirag’s friend, Vidrohi’s mother are played to perfection and leave a lasting impression. Secondly the script writing by Nitish Tiwari (of Dangaal fame) is a class apart. The sheer repartee and clean riposte keeps you bubbling and cheery for the entire 2 hours 2 minutes of the movie. Nary a dull moment, it actually grows from strength to strength.

So Bareilly ki Barfi is sweet. Sweet from beginning to end. And leaves a lovely taste in your heart as you leave the theater.

Here is hoping the Imtiaz Alis and the Karan Johars and Anurag Kashyaps and Aditya Chopras gather some courage from the director Ashwini Iyer Tiwari and writer Nitesh Tiwari and show us some truly believable characters like Bitti and Chirag and Vidrohi in their romcoms.

So next time you are in Bareilly ka bazaar don’t search for jhumkas.

Savor Bareilly ki barfi instead: vikas

My Choice

John Steinbeck, in his typical profound manner, tells us: ” the Hebrew word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not’.” (emphasis added). How well this captures the entire journey of our life!! It is always a struggle between “thou mayest” and “thou mayest not” and the final choice that we make in a given circumstance. Truly the choices that we make, make us!!!

Imagine that fateful day, when young Narendra decided that he must meet someone who has “met God” and was in search of such a Guru. On reaching Dakshineshwar he asked  “Have you seen or experienced God?”. The fateful reply of Ramakrishna,”Yes, I have seen God. I see Him as I see you here, only more clearly. God can be seen. … If one cries sincerely for God, one can surely see Him.”. Bewildered and puzzled, Narendra returned to Calcutta, but  was convinced the words sprung from deep inner experiences. So he returned to meet Ramakrishna again and again; till he was transformed into Swami Vivekanada. Advaita Vedantism owes a great debt to that fateful meeting and of course to Vivekananda’s decision to go to the Parliament of World’s Religions at Chicago in 1893. His speech there ” Sisters and Brothers of America, It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise…” changed the course of seeing Hinduism as the religion of true tolerance and universal acceptance.

Or take the case of Gandhi. When travelling to Pretoria, with a legitimate First Class ticket, he was thrown off the train on the instigation of a white man. Instead of fleeing the scene, Gandhi stayed back for 21 years to fight for Indians in Africa. Gandhi’s travails at Pietermaritzburg railway station was akin to a second birth.  It was said: “When Gandhi was evicted from the train, an Indian visiting South Africa fell but when Gandhi rose, an Indian South African rose.” The aborted train journey finally took Gandhi far beyond Pretoria!! His concepts of peaceful resistance were born from his choice of not accepting injustice. This in turn would shape his entire Nonviolence and Satyagraha philosophy which gave India its freedom from the British; while till then “Sun never set on the British Empire” The first blow to that superstructure was in Peitermaritzburg;  finding its resonance in the birth of India, Pakistan, Australia,  Kenya,  and so many other countries’ independence. (Sotto voce: we must locate and thank the white man who objected to Gandhi’s presence in the train compartment!!) General Smuts put it well:”men like Mahatma Gandhi redeem us from a sense of commonplace and futility and are an inspiration to us not to weary in well doing”. Truly, to do or not to do:  it is our choice!!!

Jawaharlal Nehru’s approach on Article 370 and  J&K; his actions and decisions in the China War in 1962 were bereft of his genial Chacha Nehru lover of children and roses image.  His choices at that time shape our present day actions vis-a-vis J&K as well as China.

Indira Gandhi’s Declaration of Emergency in 1975 gives many great examples of choices altering the course of history. The split of the hoary Congress that Indira engineered in 1969 – Congress(O) and Congress(R) – were the beginning of her megalomania. Riding on the back of populist measures like Nationalisation of Banks & Abolition of Privy Purses, Indira got a catchy slogan of Garibi Hatao to pilot a thumping majority in Parliament in 1971 elections. This fueled her greed for power even more. Newly anointed with Bharat Ratna, Indira won a war against Pakistan, freeing Bangla Desh. She started dominating the judiciary after the Kesavanada Bharti case and cases against the 24th Amendment not going her preferred way. Challenges began with Nav Nirman movement in Gujarat and agitation of Bihar Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti under the leadership of Jaiprakash Narayan(JP).  Ignoring the assassination of Railway Minister LN Mishra or the ruthless suppression of the Railway Strike by Indira only showed her decisions/choices progressively becoming undemocratic and totalitarian. The final straw was the Allahabad High Court decision finding her guilty of misusing governmental machinery in her campaigning, declaring her election null and void, unseating her from the Lok Sabha. When the Supreme Court also upheld the HC decision, strikes swept the country in trade, students and government unions. Indira’s choice and decision was to get a compliant President sign on a Proclamation of Emergency.

Even a simple recounting of these events shows the number of fork points and decisions ingrained in the choices made by all actors in this drama. We can  conjecture many, many “what-if” scenarios. There will be no definitive answers to questions like what-if Raj Narain had not challenged her election; what-if the HC judge had not ruled against Indira; what-if SC had overturned the HC decision; what-if JP and Nav Nirman movements had remained dormant; what-if SS Ray had refused to prepare the note recommending declaring  Emergency; what-if Sanjay Gandhi had not implemented forcible sterilizations… Questions, questions, questions. But you get the point I am driving at. Our lives are shaped by choices: choices that we make and choices that others around us make.

On a purely personal plane: I was always enamored with English Literature. Wanted to study and then teach English as a career. When I chose Humanities everyone advised me my life would be ruined. I would live to regret the wrong choice I was making.  Then came a time when there was a choice to shift to studying Psychology and specializing in Organizational Psychology. After that my career aspiration became teaching Psychology. Soon life presented another choice: IIM Calcutta. Having cleared entrance exams with difficulty,  I chose to study Personnel Management & Industrial Relations(PMIR) in IIMC!! Again I faced ridicule and disbelief since my choice was not Systems or Marketing or Finance in the proverbial melting pot of IIMC. I chose PMIR as it would add value to my psycho background. Today my choices have made me: a service oriented professional, happy building other’s careers and coaching them to succeed. I am what my choices have made me.

My final take is destiny is not predetermined; it is a matter of choices we make. Think of Vivekanada restlessly asking to see God. Think of Gandhi emerging stronger from his fall in Peitermaritzburg. We shape and create our life, and our future, through our choices. Indira’s death was also shaped by her choices. Richard Bach put it beautifully: “we are free to choose a different future: or even a different past”.  Think about that.

Let me end with the philosopher of philosophers Aristotle: “Excellence is never an accident… it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”

Robert Frost sang beautifully: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
… long I stood;  And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…

So friends make your choices wisely: and walk the road less travelled: vikas


C’est exclusif

As a lifelong student of human behavior, I am perpetually intrigued, and alternately saddened to see absolutely average (and significantly normal) people put on airs of exclusivity. They project a manner emulating “to the manor born”. They want to prove to their audience, and indirectly to their own selves, that they are special! Their effort is to project themselves as better than they are, above their “level”, superior!!! Often this attempt is farcical and immediately seen through by the audience they try to impress. And thus, they end up coming across lower in the eyes of the beholder.

The simplest example is the people who try to put on an accent. I do not mean the Punjus who want to speak “English” after a drink or two; but rather, the seemingly normal folks who suddenly speak different, when they are in front of an audience or when they are on phone. We all know some folks whose vocabulary or diction changes when they are in the public eye. This desire to project exclusivity is, in my opinion, deep rooted and widely prevalent in today’s times, when supplements like Bombay Times are read more assiduously than the main TOI newspaper, when Page 3 overtakes all!!

Historically of course this disease is old as the hills. There is an apocryphal story about the first English settlers to America on the boat Mayflower. Apparently the people on the boat were so status conscious that it was said “The Cabots spoke only to the Lodges; and the Lodges spoke only to God!”  Heaven help some of the hoi polloi who tried to interact socially with the Cabots and the Lodges!! In social dos today we all see such behavior. There are those who would desperately try and enter conversations with the movers and shakers: getting badly mauled in the process. Yet they would steadfastly ignore some others, seemingly below their level, who were trying equally hard to converse with them. What creates this social pecking order? Who makes these hierarchies? Is it not the innate desire to be exclusive?

Those of us who have had the fortune of working in MNCs have seen the deference with which even mechanics and technicians are treated just because they are German or American: while we gleefully ignore our own brown skinned brethren. Correspondingly the technicians belonging to “Vaterland” will look down on even General Managers of the host country merely because they are from the HQ country.  Those of us who had had the misfortune of travelling to Europe have experienced first hand the twisted egotism of the French who would disdainfully look down on anyone who dares speak in Queen’s English in their hallowed land. Their attitude is speak French or be damned. C’est exclusif!

One expects religion to be the most inclusive, and the least exclusive. But is that the reality we see reflected all around? Rather, in the name of religion, we see the most deep lines drawn between people. While all accept that at the fundamental level all religions teach love and brotherhood, it is in the name of the selfsame religion that we see maximum groupism and claims of exclusivity. We have forgotten Thomas Keller who avers ” The Gospel is an exclusive truth but it’s the most inclusive exclusive truth in the world”. We had  first Protestants who claimed Roman Catholics had lost the plot. And then came a bevy of Lutherans, Orthodox, Pentacostal, and many other variations: all claiming exclusive knowledge and grasp of the Good Word. We forgot Prophet Mohammed’s teaching :  there are multiple ways to reach the Allah. Rather in Goa we keep debating Shiva or Vishnu : who is Supreme? Do the Shwetambers have the right path or is it the Digambars?  Nirgun or Sagun : both claim they define Godhood better.

All this debate and claims lead to David Mitchell’s insight:  ” Faith, the least exclusive club, has the craftiest doorman. Every time I have stepped through it’s wide open doorway, I find myself stepping out in the streets again.”  The desire to be exclusive finally ends by showing us how non-inclusive we become. The Gods look down in pleasure on repentant sinners as ” it isn’t what we say or think that defines us but what we do” per Jane Austen (Sense & Sensibility).

Have you not seen people who wear their educational qualifications and alma mater as plumes on their head? They just cannot forget they are from IITs or IIMs or have a PhD and all their interactions are through this looking glass. They distance themselves from others, casting a long shadow of exclusivity. The qualification, college or “club tie” becomes their ‘nom de plume’; a high gate they erect to keep the “aam janata” in their place. But actually they end up as prisoners in their own fence!!! As Theodore Adorno put it “the specific is not exclusive : it lacks the aspiration to totality”. And the real world is glorious and entertaining only because of it’s rich diversity. Which in turn, can be understood  and enjoyed only if one is inclusive.

Are you only the IIM or PhD? Or are you wider and deeper than that? “To use for our exclusive benefit what is not ours is theft” warns Jose Marti. I was a Bombay University topper in BA and in MA. I had the privilege of studying in IIMC. So what? I always hid it as I reminded myself that every year there is topper in BA and one in MA. Hundreds study every year in premier colleges. But that does not define me. If it distances me from others: I would rather hide the Gold Medals I won, and not use them as the proverbial “third eye” of Shiva to judge and evaluate and destroy others.

In today’s times we can learn a lot from the entire journey of the LGBT community to get their rightful place under the sun. Stuart Milk a LGBT activist puts it brilliantly: “We are less when we do not include everyone”. Elsewhere our own Bapu cautions: “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive”.  So ubiquity is the new exclusivity. And the faster we understand this, the better human beings we will become. ” I am large. I contain multitudes” as Walt Whitman sang. To which I will only add what Sant Chokhamela  taught me :

उंबरठ्यासी  कैसे शिऊ आम्ही जातिहीन
रूप तुझे कैसे पाहू त्यात आम्ही लीन
पायरीशी होवू दंग गावूनी अभंग…                                                                                                                    ( I cannot come to the temple as I am an outcast:                                                                         I cannot even see your face as I am so helplessly enamored;                                                        so I will stay at the steps and sing your praises)

Don’t threaten me with love baby. Let’s us just go walking in the rain: vikas